The return of Major League Baseball is nearly here. It won’t be long until we hear the sounds of bats, balls, and gloves in games that actually matter. The standings will be altered, and teams will be running a 5k in an attempt to get to the playoffs.
But will it happen?
I know, I know. I can already hear it, and I’ve heard already before: Negative Nancy, Debbie Downer; whatever you want to call me, I’m okay with that. Some may call me a pessimist, but I refer to it as realism, or perhaps even cautious optimism.
Unlike the NBA and NHL, the former being self-contained inside one Disney-themed bubble in Florida, the latter being housed in two Canadian cities, Edmonton and Toronto, MLB is hoping to pull off a radically shortened season across all 30 cities.
Granted, baseball is attempting to confine that plan as much as possible in order to mitigate exposure and the inevitable problems arising from COVID-19. That’s why the Pittsburgh Pirates will only see action against their normal NL Central opponents, as well as their AL Central counterparts.
This map over at Baseball Savant shows a travel map for MLB’s 30 teams. In the map, it’s clear to see that the two Central divisions will cover the least ground – at least in terms of actual land between teams – while the East divisions fare middle-average, and the West divisions have it the worst.
As cases continue to surge in the US, sports seem determined to get rolling. The NBA is perhaps in the best arrangement, despite being in the hotspot of Florida. The NHL takes silver, while MLB stumbles into bronze. The complications that could arise from the pandemic for a sports league trying to achieve some sense of what’s normal could be wide-ranging.
We’ve already seen testing issues across MLB, which has caused teams to cancel workouts. Other players have expressed concerns about the testing failure predicament, like Kris Bryant of the Cubs. Meanwhile, an expanding list of players are opting to sit out the 2020 season.
For our sister-site Federal Baseball, I wrote about how we might be minimizing the circumstances surrounding a return to the diamond this summer. In it, I argue that MLB is attempting a Herculean task rife with hardly any implementable solutions. Despite issuing a 100-plus directive meant to be followed by players and personnel, having employees continue with their routines in their typical environment might signal a sense of safety. It’s inevitable that some players will proceed as they would under normal circumstances.
Furthermore, it’s inevitable players and personnel will test positive – many already have. That in and of itself isn’t a death knell for the season, but it of course creates logistical hurdles. My attempt here isn’t to be hyperbolic or to suggest that baseball forego all attempts at a return to a season.
The crux of my argument is this: The 2020 Major League Baseball season seemed a project quickly cobbled together in the wake of labor disputes. Certainly, the words on the paper look nice in the health and safety protocols manual, but unlike the other sports leagues, MLB spent its time bickering instead of hashing out a more reasonable and attainable season plan.
While the NBA and NHL will likely be able to pull off their respective seasons because of the lack of exposure, MLB will struggle to reach the finish line because of the vulnerability of the whole enterprise. Due to the pandemic, we’ve seen how fragile all of our societal systems are. It’s evident multi-billion dollar sports leagues aren’t immune to the problems which have arisen. But baseball didn’t come up with the most realistic plan, nor did it attempt to thwart any major logistical hurdles.
Baseball will return, absolutely, but whether or not it finishes is another story. Malfeasance committed by the league has resulted in a highly questionable environment for the sport’s return.